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called to arms

by Chaplain (CDR) Robert Cooper, United States Navy


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LITTLE DID MY FAMILY KNOW WHAT WAS IN STORE FOR THEM when God called us (via Chaplain Kerry Steedley) into military chaplaincy in the summer of 1979. We had no idea what we were getting into or what to expect, but we knew God wanted us to change the focus of our ministry from the local church to the United States Navy. That special ministry has lasted for 26 years.

We came into the chaplaincy with great excitement…and great uncertainty. Would we adjust to the regimented military system? Could I still preach my convictions? Would my family adjust to the military lifestyle and constant moves? After all, if the family is unstable, the service member (the chaplain in this case) is distracted from doing his job.

Over the course of 26 years military service, life has been challenging at times, calling for sacrifices from all of us. Our family has moved every two to three years. The children were often uprooted from friends, schools, and familiar surroundings. I was often gone for weeks at a time, and sometimes six to seven months. My wife Ava had to be both mom and dad during my absence, caring for the responsibilities of the home, the kids, the house, and the finances—besides working a day job. After the kids went bed each night, she wrote letters to keep me encouraged.

We learned to rely on each other for support, and we became a very close-knit family. A lot of credit goes to our three kids who took it all in stride, and while not perfect, were usually well-behaved, understanding, and supportive. They are a great blessing to us.


My son wrote a letter to me before my deployment to Iraq last year. The letter, which speaks for his two sisters as well, stated, “I don’t really want to write out the unthinkable, but let’s be honest. You are going into a war zone, so I feel it would be stupid to not say a few things. First, thank you. You have always been giving and generous, and have sacrificed for your family. From you I have learned how to put my family first. I have learned how to be strong and take care of the business at hand. You have always been an unsung hero of my life, and I am proud, and lucky to have you as my father.”

The challenges have been balanced by so many blessings through the years. We have seen the world and visited or lived in several countries and states from the east to the west coast. We built some very close friendships over the years while ministering to people around the world.

It has been our privilege and honor to serve our country, the Free Will Baptist Denomination, and most of all, our Lord, as a FWB Chaplain. If I was young again, and the call came, would I make the same decision? You bet I would.

After spending a number of years in the states and overseas, including a tour of duty in Iraq, Chaplain Cooper is stationed in Jacksonville, NC. He has served as a chaplain for Free Will Baptists since 1980.


©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists